Monday, May 28, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-4
This Week: (5/28-30: at TB; 5/31-6/3: at Cle)

First take on the week: Magglio Ordonez is hitting on another plane than anyone else.

Second take: the Cleveland Indians were a hungrier bunch of ballplayers than our Tigers this past wekend.

The Indians came here, looked around, and conquered the Tigers -- swiping first place in the process. And they did it while laughing, high-fiving, playing loose and confident, and they just looked like a ballclub who took this series a lot more seriously than the Tigers did. Maybe it meant more to Cleveland. Maybe it was because the Tigers handled the Indians so well in 2006. But if you were looking, you could see it: every hit, every sacrifice fly, every inning-ending double play was met with happy faces and fist pumps -- on the field and in the dugout.

The Tigers, on the other hand, had the look of a concerned, unsure team.

I may be reading too much into this. These just may be the bleatings of an ink-stained wretch and know-it-all blogger. But once I noticed the Indians' demeanor over the weekend, it became harder and harder to ignore.

They had fun at Comerica Park -- boy, did they ever. And they're feeling pretty good about themselves, I'd wager. It's up to the Tigers to go into Cleveland this week and weekend and put a little hurt on the Tribe -- before the Indians open up too big a lead for comfort.

But there are three games against the potentially frisky Tampa Bay Devil Rays before the rematch with the Indians, in Florida. The Rays are 12-14 at home and can put a licking on you if you don't take them seriously. And it might be easy to overlook them, with the Indians looming again.

But the more long-term concern should be the pitching staff -- specifically the meshing of the starters and the bullpen. The starters are finding it increasingly difficult to give Jim Leyland anything more than 5-6 innings. The bullpen is leaky, and is injury-riddled. As a result, the Tigers are becoming what they want to avoid: a team that relies on its offense and power to overwhelm opponents. They have to outslug you now to win, and that's not what a pitching-proud team needs to do.

At Memorial Day, it's proper to say that if the Tigers can keep their heads above water in this wacky AL Central until Joel Zumaya, Kenny Rogers, and others get healthy, then they should be in good shape heading down the stretch.

In the meanwhile, be ready for some long games.



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